It’s cool to stay cool: Our Guide to Coping in a Heatwave

How shocked we all were when a strange orange globe appeared in the sky…the sun!  We long for it when it’s wet and cold, when it seems as if English summers really are just a short blip between winter and autumn.  Now that we’re experiencing the hottest days since the 1970s, we are uncomfortable, hot, grumpy.

Most of us, though, can manage to regulate our temperatures–ice cold Pimms in a shady spot of the garden or nestled away in an air-conditioned office.  We might be a little sticky, a little flushed, but we know how to make ourselves cooler, how to feel when our core temperature is rocketing, and to act swiftly to keep ourselves safe and prevent overheating.  The most risk we face is to pong or to have a restless night’s sleep.

For many, the heatwave poses an actual and very significant risk to their health and wellbeing.  The NHS define those at risk from heatwaves as: Older people, babies and young children, people with serious chronic conditions such as breathing or mobility problems.  People with serious mental health needs, those on certain medications and people who are physically active and sporty, and those with drugs and alcohol dependency.


What are the risks of overheating?

The body normally cools itself in a very clever way, (see HERE for the clinical bit).  The body is such a clever machine in that it will make our skin sweat if the temperature is higher than skin temperature.  In some people this mechanism is impaired because of chronic conditions, illness or medication.  If they cannot sweat effectively, their bodies cannot regulate temperature as efficiently.  Also, if the person is dehydrated or even wearing tight fitting clothes, their bodies cannot sweat as easily and therefore will overheat.  Sweating and dehydration can cause illness such as electrolyte imbalance and reduce the functioning of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

So, overheating can cause: heat cramps, heat rash, swelling of the ankles and fingers, dizziness and fainting, nausea and even death.

Who is at risk in social care?

As discussed above, we are mostly able to take steps to control our body temperatures by putting in place measures to mitigate the risks.  We do it automatically, without thought.  Some individuals do not necessarily have the capacity to adapt behaviours to keep cool.

Autism Uk discuss sensory differences in people with autism who may be over-sensitive or under-sensitive to sensory stimuli such as touch and sound and overload.  Imagine then, a hot day such as we are experiencing today – the brightness of the unclouded sky, the whirring of fans, the crowds of people drawn to public spaces.  Imagine then, the change in routine that may be essential to keeping safe: staying out of the hot sun, being offered more drinks and hats to wear and sunscreen applied.  All of these challenges can be profound for people with autism, with wider learning disabilities, with anyone for whom they rely on others to keep them safe and well but may not understand why things are different.  Routines and structure are very important for autistic people and change can be distressing, worsened still if the person is hot and uncomfortable.  Uses of picture symbols can be very helpful to explain and reinforce the change and reasons behind it.  Activities that are known to be calming to the individual can be offered in a cool and shady place where the person feels safe.

It is also essential that staff stay hydrated and well and so the measures below apply to everyone.  Apple House Care Homes have today contacted our team to remind them of steps they can take to stay cool and well.  Romaine Lawson, Operations Director, told the team to ‘Drink plenty of fluids and to listen to their bodies.  To wear lighter clothing.  If they are struggling, speak up and reach out for support where needed.  To be safe and look after themselves.’

How can we keep people well during a heatwave?

  • Check that fridges and freezers are running at the right temperature.
  • Check that the person has light, loose-fitting cotton clothing to wear.
  • If you plan to move an autistic person somewhere cooler, think about the impact that will have and take sensible measures to minimise distress.
  • Cover windows that let in most sunlight and open the windows at night, when it is cooler,  if it is safe to do so.
  • Make sure that people at risk stay out of the sun between 11am and 3pm.
  • Advice the use of sun hats and apply a high UV factor sun block cream regularly.
  • Reduce the level of physical exertion like going up stairs or for long walks, especially during 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its hottest.
  • Offer regular tepid baths or showers or washes.
  • Cold food such as salads and fruit have a higher water content.
  • Offer drinks regularly but avoid tea, coffee and coke which contain caffeine as caffeine can add to dehydration.
  • Monitor daily fluid intake, particularly for the most vulnerable.  Record daily intake.

The above guidance can be found on the Government’s website or by clicking HERE

We want everyone to have fun in the sun, to enjoy the opportunity to make the most of this wonderful place in which we live.  Apple House care homes are by the sea, the forest, parks, and have a wide variety of exciting things to do and see — but we want to do it safely which is why WE ARE HEAT-WISE. — Jane Montrose, Managing Director, Apple House Care Homes.


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